Editor’s note: Parties to a dispute are almost always supposed to seek compromise (peshara) rather than strict din. In fact, the Gemara (Bava Metzia 30b) states that Yerushalayim was destroyed because cases were settled based on din (rather than lifnim meshuras hadin). We encourage readers, therefore, to read this column – which often addresses human disputes – as a source of Torah knowledge, not a guide for ideal Torah behavior.
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David picked up his mail and saw a large, fancy envelope. “This looks like a wedding invitation,” he said. “I wonder from whom.”
He opened the invitation. “Wow! Shimon is getting married!” he exclaimed. “It was nice of him to invite me. We were close in school, but I haven’t seen him for a while.”
“Where is the wedding?” David’s wife asked.
“It’s in Baltimore. It’s quite a drive, but I guess I’ll go.”
“I don’t think I’ll come,” David’s wife said. “I don’t want to get a babysitter for the whole day.”
David sent an RSVP: “David will attend.”
On the morning of the wedding, David had second thoughts. “I’m not relishing the drive,” he told his wife. “I also have work I’d like to finish and some household repairs I’ve been pushing off.”
“But you responded that you’re going!” said his wife.
“I know, I feel bad about that,” said David.
“They ordered a serving for you,” his wife pointed out. “If you don’t go, you’re causing them a loss. At least send a gift to cover the serving.”
“Whether I go or not is not really a loss for them,” David replied.
Nonetheless, David decided to consult Rabbi Dayan. “If I don’t attend, am I liable for the serving?” he asked.
“It’s hard to give a blanket answer; expectations vary,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “In some places the count is exact; in others it’s approximate. Some people reduce the count 10 percent, knowing that not everyone will not show up. Some circles rely on gifts to cover the wedding cost. Others see the gift as an expression of goodwill.”
“Is there some halachic precedent?” asked David.
“Many authorities write that someone who makes an arrangement with a second person who incurs expenses based on that arrangement is liable for those expenses if he does not uphold the arrangement,” replied Rabbi Dayan.
“He must do so due to ‘garmi’ – he has directly caused damage – unless there was sufficient cause (oness) that prevented him from upholding the arrangement, e.g., illness.” [Choshen Mishpat 386:1]
“Can you provide some examples?” asked David.
“If litigants arrange a court date in a distant city, and one of them doesn’t show up, he must pay for the travel expenses of the other party,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “The Chavos Yair [#168] derives from this rule that a choson who doesn’t show up to his wedding in a distant city must pay for the wedding expenditures of the kallah.” [Rema, Choshen Mishpat 14:5; Pischei Teshuva, Choshen Mishpat 14:15; Pischei Choshen, Nezikin 3:27]
“Similarly, the Rosh [104:6] writes that a person who retracts after telling a craftsman to make something he would buy from him must pay for the craftsman’s expenses,” continued Rabbi Dayan. “R’ Akiva Eiger [#134] also applies this rule to someone who retracted after instructing another to import fruits from a distant place.” [Choshen Mishpat 333:8; Pischei Choshen, Sechirus 13:3]
“Similarly, a lender who instructs a potential borrower to prepare a loan document, but later retracts,” added Rabbi Dayan, “must pay the borrower’s expenses in preparing the document.” (Sma 39:46)
“It sounds, then, that I’m liable for the cost of the serving,” said David.
“Well, all these cases include a contractual obligation or mutual commitment between two parties: plaintiff-defendant, choson–kallah, employer-employee, buyer-seller, and lender-borrower,” replied Rabbi Dayan.
“If there is no such commitment, a person is not responsible if someone else incurred expenses of his own volition because of him. At most, we’re talking about grama for which one is liable only b’dinei shamayim when done with intention to damage or through negligence, but not when done in good faith.” [Choshen Mishpat 386:3; Pischei Choshen, Nezikin 3:39]
“Nonetheless,” concluded Rabbi Dayan, “it would seem proper manners to wish your friend mazal tov with a gift and apologize for not attending.”